Ten Tips for Great Acting
by N J Howell
what Hollywood taught me
Have you ever been so involved in what was happening on the big screen that you felt you were there? Have you ever been moved to tears or laughed out loud because you connected with what the character was giving you in their film or television show performance? That's what I mean by believable acting -- it's acting that allows me to completely suspend my disbelief and "believe" what I'm seeing. Actually, it goes beyond believing it. I actually feel emotional connection to what I'm seeing. For me, this is acting at it's finest but how do we create believable characters?
Believable acting takes practice, focus, developing strong empathic abilities and noticing what is going on with other people. Below are just a few acting tips, gathered from my own experience as an actor, for creating believable characters in film, television and stage performances.
Suggested Resources for Acting:
Actor's Power Pak
The Acting Guide
Why you may need an acting coach
1. Be embarassing! Great acting is embarrassing acting. This may sound strange yet one of the highest complements I can pay any actor is that they are embarassing. What I mean by that is that the actor has let go of the natural tendency to want to appear nice in public, or cool, or whatever their ego needs wants to present. Being willing to be private in public, with cameras and crew watching, is one mark of a great actor.
The actor must willing to plunge into the reality of the character they are playing and if that character is obnoxious and loud, the actor must willing to not hold back. If that character picks their nose in public, the actor must do it fully and freely and not with some part of them unconsciously saying this is a character, but I would never do this.
When we judge what our character is doing, mentally, while we are playing the part, it results in less than believable acting and a less than believable character. Maybe, for that character, it is perfectly natural to pass gas in public and they have no concept that it bothers others. Great acting involves passing gas in public if that's what the character would do. It's about keeping it real
2. Use props effectively. A prop is anything that is the personal property of the actor, such as coats, books, tools, hats, raincoats, etc. However, a prop can also mean any item with which the actor has physical interaction, as long as it is used meaningfully and truthfully to further the revealing of the character's reality. If the actor answers the phone then, for that moment, the phone is a prop and can be utilized to further define the character for the audience. Try this exercise on using props
3. Honor your fellow actor. One of the biggest diversions from believable acting that I see as a coach and also as an actor, is when an actor decides that the play or script revolves around him or her. Always make your fellow actor at least as important as yourself. Don't say your next line until something in the other person's face, voice or body language has effected you. Then, your response will be coming "from somewhere real" rather than just being the next line you are supposed to say.
Mini-exercise: The next time you watch a movie, pay particular attention to whether you are more interested in the person talking or the person listening. I think you'll find that the person who is listening will captivate more. It is because we naturally want to see the effects of what is being said, play across the face and body of the one to whom they are being said. This is our validation, as audience members, of what the things being said really mean.
4. Memorization tip: If you have trouble remembering lines, try this. Record your lines on a tape recorder and play it just at the level that you can hear a sound but not make out words. Play it all day, if you can. Then, put it on at night the same way before you go to sleep. I've done this before, at least for a week before starting rehearsals, and find that it imprints my lines on my memory quite well. This engages your subconsious mind in the memorization process, which is very valuable to keep from sounding like you are just saying lines.
5. Another Memorization tip: To further enhance memory recall, on the other side of the tape you've just done, record your cue lines (the lines that are being said to your character by other actors), leaving a silent space as you mouth your line silently, and then speak your line aloud. Use this side of the tape with the conscious mind. Listen to it often, at regular volume and say your line during the silence. Then, you will hear your line and can tell if you said it properly.
6. Use movement while saying your lines. Dance, stretch, do Qigong, Tai Chi, etc. By not always doing your lines sitting still, you get the body involved with the process. Saying the lines while moving your body removes any stiffness of the body and helps you work thru resistances to anything your character has to say or do that may be foreign or "not acceptable" to you.
7. Meditate. Find quiet time to sit and meditate on your part. Visualize yourself at the end of a successful performance. See yourself glowing with the awareness that you have created a believable character and that your character was well received by the audience. If the performance is on stage, see yourself taking a bow and hear the applause directed your way. See the smiling faces of the audience, acknowledging your success.
8. Pray. This goes back to the very beginning of the course. Remember when I said that acting was noble; vital; important? I believe your performance can be enhanced by connecting with the God your knowing during the rehearsal process and before the performance, asking that you be a clear channel for whatever gifts may be given to the audience.
There are gifts of awareness, laughter, release, emotional shifting, etc. that can be given by the actor and setting your intent to be of service in this way will amplify the Power you have available for performing.
9. Get into class. Believable acting depends, in large part, to flexibility of the body, mind and voice so keep putting yourself in freshness. Find a good improvisation class or even community theatre. It's important to keep your work fresh and one of the best ways to do that is by interacting with other people and "acting". It's one thing to rehearse at home, alone, but it's quite another to have the lifeforce energy of another person with whom to interact. Get some training, even if you are already experienced. Don't be above doing extra work; consider it paid training. Keep growing.
10. Have fun! The first time I went to Hollywood, I didn't have fun. I ended up living in a garage, depressed and disheartened. This is a tough business. Make no mistake about it. So make sure you have a life outside of acting. If you make it the only thing you care about, you are likely to be burned out within a year.